Goal Setting for Riders: 5 Questions to Jump Start Your Progress

The arrival of a New Year typically gets riders thinking about their goals. If you’re like me, you have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the season. However, determining the effective short-term goals that get you there – well, that could use some work. By asking myself a series of probing questions, I’ve discovered a helpful way to uncover the specific actions I need to complete in order to reach my long-term goal.

Meme: Dreams are where you want to end up. Goals are how you get there.

First, it’s important to establish a long-term goal for the season. This goal clarifies what you want to accomplish and provides a sense of purpose. Having a goal transforms the “I’ll see how it goes” mentality into a course of action. As a result, we’re more likely to use our schooling time effectively, move towards our desired result, and obtain a rewarding sense of accomplishment.

If you haven’t set a goal for the year, go ahead and dream! Brainstorm some realistic dreams and use the information to create a specific long-term goal. Then, answer the following questions (my favorites) to fine-tune your goal and identify the specific actions you’ll need to turn dreams into reality.  


 Five questions to jump-start your goal setting process:


#1 – What is it about riding that you truly love? Ask your heart. Really think about what makes you smile. Identify what YOU enjoy working on with your horse. 

Having a long-term goal that’s personally meaningful increases your chance of success. Focus on what you really enjoy, not what coaches, parents or peers expect you to do. Setting your goal from a place of internal motivation connects you to your passion and gives you a deeper sense of purpose. When challenges arise, you’ll be more committed to finding solutions and moving forward.

#2 – What simple action can you take to kick-off your journey?

Bring procrastination to a halt by completing an immediate action goal – one simple thing you can do in minutes or hours to start moving forward. It doesn’t even have to involve your horse! But it should spark your interest and motivate you to continue.  

Perhaps your goal for the year is to ride in four competitions that are part of an area series of shows. Your immediate action goal could be to join the hosting association, review their year-end awards qualifications, and add the show dates to your calendar. Easy! (Okay, that’s three simple things.)

Meme Quote: You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be Great.

#3 – What’s holding you back from reaching your goal?  

Be proactive! List any obstacles that could limit your success. Then, brainstorm solutions. This will help you create a course of action to manage or overcome challenges before they zap your motivation or derail your progress.  

This may include technical skills to learn in order to move up a level or tack to acquire in order to compete in a new discipline. Maybe you’re concerned about finding sufficient funds for a lesson program. Can you help with barn chores in exchange for lessons? Do you have tack you’re not using that could be sold?

#4 – Where are you stuck in a comfort zone? 

Sometimes we get so cozy in our comfort zone that it limits our ability to advance. Think about what makes you uncomfortable, but deep down you know you have to overcome it in order to achieve your long-term goal.

Perhaps you’ve gotten really comfortable schooling independently at home. You’d like to start showing, but feel uncomfortable riding in front of a crowd. Establish gradual opportunities to build confidence. Your first short-term goal could be taking two lessons in front of a group of friends, followed by riding in one semi-private session at a small clinic. Checking off short-term or process goals from your list creates a feeling of “YES! I did it!” – which further boosts self-confidence and the motivation to continue.

#5 – What can you do OUT of the saddle that would enhance your effectiveness IN the saddle?   

For example, a pleasure rider would really like to take her horse on an organized trail ride, but he’s terrible about trailer loading! Add short-term goals focused on ground work to improve the horse’s trailer loading skills.

I love this question, because many out-of-the-saddle goals provide us with activities to work on during Winter months, rainy days – or even from home! Unmounted actions also strengthen our mental fitness when behavioral and emotional short-term goals are part of the process.    

  • BEHAVIORAL – (short-term goals that build better behaviors)
    • taking a Yoga or Pilates class for better rider fitness
    • watching specific training videos or reading recommended books to advance your understanding of a training concept

(Click the above links to learn how to apply these suggestions)

Once you’ve uncovered what you need to work on, you’ll have an easier time writing specific short-term goals – your stepping stones – that will move you towards your desired result. To maximize your success, create technical, behavioral AND emotional goals. Add realistic deadlines to each short-term goal to create your intended timeline. This forms your personalized action plan that can be organized in a goals calendar or riding journal. A calendar or journal is a great place to mark important dates, record feedback, make adjustments (yes, manure happens), and monitor your progress.

Meme quote: The real value of setting goals is not the recognition or awards; it's the stronger rider we become by finding the commitment and courage to achieve them.

Dreaming about a goal is the easy part. Turning that vision into reality requires planning and commitment. So, go for it! Dream big, follow your heart, and get started by identifying the particular short-term goals you’ll need to move forward with confidence.

Enjoy the journey!

  -Liz Piacentini

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Make a Difference: Become a Horse Show Volunteer!

By, Liz Piacentini

This year, I volunteered at several horse shows and events. I witnessed the positive impact volunteering made on organizations, horses, riders and even the volunteers themselves. In fact, volunteering was such a rewarding activity, that I’m making a change in the New Year!

Image: Team Challenge Ribbons

Weatogue Stables Team Challenge awards – displayed at the Connecticut Dressage Association schooling show where Liz volunteered as a test runner & scorer.

After spending my professional life in the event planning industry, I understand the work that happens behind-the-scenes to coordinate a competition, clinic or class. If it wasn’t for the dedicated individuals who currently donate their time and talents to equestrian organizations, there would be no shows or educational programs!

I decided it was time to give back a little more. Besides, the muscles I pulled doing mid-summer yard work needed a chance to heal. Instead of competing, lending a helping hand would be a way to stay involved, provide support, and express gratitude for the events I’ve attended.

Initially, it felt strange to drive onto the show grounds without a truck packed with tack or my Canadian horse, Lyrical. Show organizers kindly answered my questions and quickly helped me get settled into my role. It didn’t take long to realize how volunteering helps equestrians learn and grow from a different perspective.


10 Reasons to Volunteer for Your Favorite Equine Organization –


1) Learn New Skills – A willing attitude is all you need! Start by reaching out to an association or riding club you already belong to. You may develop future career skills while working on a committee, or discover helpful insights from Dressage judges while learning to scribe.

2) Share Your Strengths – Your favorite non-profit may need the skills you’ve already acquired in your job or school. For example: writing articles, marketing, cultivating sponsors, web design, social media, and various administrative efforts lend support before an event and typically can be done from home.

3) Turn a Negative into a Positive – You strain your back or your horse gets an abscess. It happens! When you can’t compete, offer to volunteer. No need to stay home and feel left out when you can fit in, have fun, and make a difference.

4) Check out the Show Grounds – Get comfortable with a new venue without your horse! Being a ring steward or runner allows you to see a show in action. Let your mind’s eye absorb the sights and sounds of the competition ring. After all, visualizing your ride with the details of the actual arena is a great pre-show technique for boosting confidence and future performance.

5) Support Fellow Riders – There’s nothing like seeing the excitement on a friend’s face as they overcome a challenge or complete a great ride. Smiles are not only contagious, they make volunteering so worthwhile.

6) Discover Valuable Lessons – For example, one of my volunteer experiences was at the large Dressage4Kids Youth Dressage Festival in Saugerties, NY. As one of the scorers during Friday’s schooling show, I helped young riders learn how to score their dressage tests. The enthusiasm, riding abilities and team spirit these kids displayed was remarkable!

Now and then, I was reminded that a 4 isn’t the end of the world. These resilient young competitors proved that when we focus on making the rest of the ride the best of the ride, we can still end up with a pretty amazing test.

Meme quote: You don't have to be Perfect to be Amazing

7) Meet New Friends – When you already share common interests in a breed, discipline, or cause, friendships are easier to form.

8) Make a Difference – As an example, my passion for the Canadian horse, led me to join the Canadian Horse Heritage & Preservation Society (CHHAPS). For the past three years, a group of New England members have come together to raise awareness of this endangered breed by organizing an educational booth, demo, lecture and breed display at Equine Affaire in West Springfield, MA.

As one of the coordinating volunteers, I’ve met some pretty amazing and dedicated Canadian horse fans. Little did we realize the impact this four-day expo would gradually produce! Together, we’ve helped new horse owners fall in love with a rare breed, increased memberships, raised funds, and made a difference for le Cheval Canadien.

Image: CHHAPS Volunteers at Equine Affaire

CHHAPS Volunteers: Lise Krieger, Jo Bunny, Liz Piacentini, Margo Killoran and Dave Southwick.

9) Boost Your Satisfaction & Well-being – Still need convincing? Recent studies show that getting involved in cultural activities, being outdoors, and volunteering are key activities for boosting health, reducing depression, and increasing satisfaction.

10) Receive Unexpected Tokens of Appreciation – A heart-felt “thank you” does wonders to let you know your work was appreciated. You might even leave with a swag bag of goodies, complimentary equine magazines, T-shirt, discount coupons from sponsors or other perks. But, you’ll always go home with a valuable experience.


As I reflect on the past year, I realize how much volunteering proved to be a rewarding activity. Giving back helped me recognize it’s time to add volunteering goals to my equestrian journey.

Think about your own goals for the New Year. Between organizations that support your favorite discipline, breed associations, Pony Club, 4-H, therapeutic riding programs, equine rescues and retirement facilities, the horse industry is filled with opportunities to get involved. The success of our equine associations depends on member participation!

Pledge to make a difference in the New Year by volunteering for at least one event. Your favorite organization is bound to have an opportunity where you can uncover rewarding experiences and valuable lessons.

Follow your passion and enjoy the journey!

Turn Riding Dreams into Plans with a Goals Calendar

By, Liz Piacentini

Spring is my favorite time to fine-tune the riding goal I set back in January. I’ve already determined where I’d like my horse and I to be by October. The steps I need to get there, however, could really use some work. Creating a goals calendar works best for me. It helps me turn what I should work on into a specific plan of action for improvement.

Opening photo of calendar

Whether on-line or on paper, a goals calendar helps me break down my objective for the year into bite size chunks. I use one calendar to summarize the clinics and shows for my discipline. The instant timeline makes it easy to build a plan and prioritize my monthly and weekly learning opportunities.

I start by gathering the latest newsletters and publications from my favorite riding clubs and organizations. Then, I follow these simple steps:


How to Create a Goals Calendar to Plan and Prioritize your Progress:


Outline Your Options

  • Write upcoming events for your discipline on a calendar – Select events you are realistically comfortable traveling to. If two are offered on the same day, list both! Include seminars and clinics, not just competitions.
  • Add basic details – Include the farm name or location. What’s the clinic theme? Are shows schooling or recognized? Details help you select the best options.
  • Enter closing dates – Don’t miss out! Mark the dates shows and popular events need your entry.
  • Include work, school or family obligations – Block off your summer family vacation, annual business conference, or important school trip. But, keep your options open. List horse events available during these dates in case plans change.
  • Include other equine activities – Add volunteer work or courses.
  • Save room for FUN stuff – Write down that beach ride or trail day you’re planning with friends.
  • Add new events throughout the season – Continue to look for new opportunities as barns and organizations add to their event schedules.

Identify Your Stepping Stones

Your goals calendar now contains your personal collection of opportunities for learning, riding and testing your skills. Review the options available for each month. Which ones provide the best ways to develop your skills in a progressive manner? Which ones offer ideal experiences for your horse?  How many can you realistically attend?

Quote, a goal should scare you a little, & excite you a lot.Highlight two or more events you can commit to each month. These become your short-term goals – stepping stones of learning for you and your horse. For example, let’s say your first goal is to ride in a stadium jumping clinic coming to a new farm. You’ll get to sharpen technical skills while exposing your horse to a new venue. Your second goal is to return to the same farm and compete in a jumper show later that month. Set yourself up for building success.

Your trainer can help you identify the experiences best suited for you and your horse. Remember, you don’t have to show to have goals! Between ground work clinics, organized trail rides, equestrian sport psychology seminars, and symposiums to audit, there are plenty of non-competitive ways to keep your learning on track.

Add Supportive Actions

Look at the opportunities you highlighted. Think about how you can maximize the time between these stepping stones with effective supportive actions. Ask yourself what you need to do to prepare for each short-term goal. What are the possible road blocks you may face? Then, think of how you can overcome these challenges. Discuss your thoughts with your trainer. Determine the best proactive approach and ideal days for lessons.

Get creative! You may have to think outside the arena to tackle your road blocks. Do you need to work on trailer loading? Are you a stiff rider who could benefit from stretching exercises or yoga? If weekly lessons are beyond your budget, try watching training videos to supplement your learning. How about health and wellness for your horse? Maybe it’s a good time for a visit from the equine dentist. Using a calendar helps manage your time and reduce scrambling at the last minute.

Be Prepared for Change

We’ve all been there. Just when you feel completely on track, your horse gets an abscess before show day. Or, maybe you’re the one with a setback that prevents you from joining friends on a special trail ride. Whatever the unfortunate circumstance, now and then we may have to make the best of a disappointing situation.

Facing setbacks is one reason why I list multiple events for the same day on my calendar. My Plan B’s are already visible. If I can’t ride in a show, maybe I can volunteer or audit a clinic. Setbacks don’t always mean our goals come to a dramatic sliding stop. They may just need postponing. Seeing other options helps redirect our actions into resilient comebacks.

Quote, Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and a plan.Other times we may need to change our short-term goals. You and your young horse may not be ready for that big show at the end of the summer. What are the other available choices on your calendar? Changing doesn’t mean failing. You simply have the good sense to do what’s right for you and your horse and chose a different path for progress. In the long run, a local schooling show instead of a large recognized show may be what’s needed for a stronger foundation.

Get Started!

Have fun organizing your riding plans on a goals calendar. But remember, a plan only describes your intentions. So, get busy! Start doing the things that strengthen and motivate you to become a better rider. Venture outside your comfort zone and embrace opportunities with your supporters. After all, while it is rewarding to achieve a long-term goal, our real growth lies in the experiences, challenges, and change we experience along the way.

Enjoy the journey!